It's July, it's officially summer, and it is HOT! During the summer months we often farm in the mornings and evenings, so we can escape from the sun during the hottest part of the day. We cool off with a dip in the farm pond, a popsicle from the "emergency" stash in the freezer, and a nice cold glass of something refreshing.
Ellen's family is Swedish, and the Swedes are masters of cooling summer cordials made from foraged foods. This Elderflower Cordial, known as flädersaft in Swedish, is one of our favorites. It has a bright, sweet, lemony floral flavor that does wonders on a hot summer day. Make a big batch now, and freeze the syrup to use all summer long.
This recipe calls for elderflower clusters, which are the blooms of the elderberry bush. There are several species of elderberry that grow wild in North America, and any of them can be used in this recipe. We have many growing along the roadsides and hedgerows in our area. Just make sure what you are picking is actually elderberry! The key things to look for are:
1) A bright white flower cluster in a wide, flat umbrella shape
2) Compound leaves with 7-9 serrated leaflets arranged opposite each other along the stem.
Some botany for you: a "compound leaf" is actually one leaf that is divided into multiple little leaflets, like a palm frond.
Elderberries have compound leaves with serrated (toothy) edges.
The two closest lookalikes that we have on our farm are Viburnum, a different kind of flowering bush, and Queen Anne's lace, a tall wildflower. Viburnum flower clusters are much smaller and lack the flat-topped umbrella shape of the elderflower clusters, and they have single (non-compound) leaves with smooth edges. Queen Anne's lace does have large white flower clusters, but it grows on a tall stalk (not a bush) and the leaves are feathery like carrots. When in doubt, look at the leaves!
Left: Viburnum. Note the smaller flower clusters and single leaves.
Right: Queen Anne's lace. It grows on a tall stalk (not a bush) and has feathery, carrot-like leaves.
Once you've found an elderberry bush, you'll need to pick about 25 flower clusters for this recipe. Choose clusters where the flowers are open and fragrant. Leave clusters where the flowers have faded, or haven't opened yet. Unopened flowers look like little white pearls.
Left: This flower cluster is not ready yet! Give it a few more days to open fully.
Right: This flower cluster is too old! Let that one grow into berries.
Elderflower Cordial (Flädersaft)
25 elderflower clusters
4 cups sugar
4 cups water
2 lemons, sliced thinly
Juice of 2 additional lemons
Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and let cool slightly until it is warm, but not hot.
Separate the flowers from their stems and place into a large bowl. Don't be too picky about this - I used to painstakingly pluck off every flower, leaving no green behind. This is unnecessary! Now, I just use kitchen shears to snip off little bunches of flowers leaving about 1/2" of stem attached. Too much stem will make your cordial bitter, but this little amount won't affect it.
Thinly slice two of the lemons and place them on top of the flowers in the bowl. Squeeze the juice of the remaining two lemons over the top.
Pour the syrup over the flowers and lemons. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and let sit in a cool place for 3-5 days.
Strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Squeeze the flowers and lemon slices to extract as much of the syrup as possible.
To make a glass of cordial, combine 1 part syrup with 4 parts water. Serve over ice.
Syrup can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 weeks, or in the freezer for a longer time.
Watch a video on how to make elderflower cordial on our Instagram!